Flood plan rejection raises more debate over siting of new Saddleworth School

Campaigners supporting a new Saddleworth School in Diggle insist ongoing flooding concerns for the proposed site off Huddersfield Road won’t stop the controversial re-development project.

Proposed site of new Saddleworth School

For a second time in five months the Environment Agency (EA) has objected to the planning application to re-site the school from Uppermill to the former WH Shaw Pallet Works.

The Victorian Society has objected to the demolition of the Dobcross Loom Works buildings and the listed link bridge and has recommended refusal, asking Oldham Council to explore the current location “as the preferred option for the new school development”.

The EA again says a flood risk assessment (FRA), submitted by applicants – the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) – still fails “to comply with requirements set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and associated guidance”.

However, a spokesperson for Diggle for Saddleworth School (D4SS) told the Independent: “We are fully aware of the latest letter from the Environment Agency re the flood strategy and understand that actions are still ongoing to amend some of the proposed details for the design of the flood management system.

“Others have since been approved after the last letter.

“Once the maths is agreed, the EA are statutorily required to remove their objection, so it is not a permanent opposition to the plans.

“As to the statement re the Victorian Society, this is just more false information.

“They are not the national heritage advisors to the government or local authorities. That lies with Historic England and therefore they are not a statutory consultee.

“The Victorian Society’s recommendations can only be taken into consideration alongside all the other information.

“We we sincerely hope that once the design and flood strategy are signed off that everyone will be in support of the application for the school to move to Diggle.”

Saddleworth Parents’ group spokesperson Thirza Dixon, said: “We had been told that two of the initial issues causing an objection had been resolved to the EA’s satisfaction, with the balance resting on a couple of technical clarifications the EA are seeking from the EFSA’s advisers.

“We have consulted with a number of planning advisors and feel it is important local people understand it is normal procedure for the Environment Agency to put in a ‘holding objection’ until they reach agreement with a planning applicant on the proposed details of a design to take account of flood management.

“This does not mean they expect the objection to be permanent. We understand the EA has recently asked for some further work to be carried out by the applicant to support the application and this is in being done.

“With regard to the Victorian Society, the opinion is not a surprise.

“I do not have the detail of why it objects, and if it is qualified to suggest where the siting of a large school should be.

“Our view is the new school application does more for the heritage building by creating a context where it can be brought back into use, compared to its ongoing risks as part of an abandoned, derelict industrial site.

“These are exciting times for the new Saddleworth School, and things, although slow, are moving ahead.”

Keith Lucas, spokesman for the Save Diggle Action Group and who successfully won a High Court challenge to the school move in 2017, said: “OMBC have created a wall of silence for anyone who have had genuine concerns about the infrastructural and environmental concerns about the re-location of Saddleworth School to Diggle from its present Uppermill site.

“What will it take for OMBC and the ESFA to really listen to Mr Justice Kerr’s judgment and the objections of two consultees?

“We are all fully behind Saddleworth parents and pupils in getting a new school.

“If OMBC had listened to local public wishes for a new school to be built on the present Uppermill site in the beginning, a new secondary school would have been up and running by 2015.

“SDAG ask that please stop wasting considerable time and public money trying to move Saddleworth School to Diggle.

“We feel an urgent enquiry is needed and the public of Saddleworth get behind the appeal for the school to be rebuilt on its present site in Uppermill without any further delays.”

Helen Lockwood, Oldham Council’s Executive Director for Economy, Skills and Neighbourhoods, said: “This is not unusual during any planning application and is part of the process designed to ensure key stakeholders are satisfied.

“The ESFA are continuing to work closely with the Environment Agency and others to address their concerns and are hopeful of a positive outcome soon.”

In her letter to OMBC, Sylvia Whittingham, EA planning advisor, wrote: “You can overcome our objection by submitting an FRA which covers the deficiencies and demonstrates the development will not increase risk elsewhere and where possible reduces flood risk overall.”

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